The chief argument in favor of the use of Latin was its universal character. This argumentation is substantial, although taken in itself it does not necessitate the exclusive use of Latin. It cannot be denied that the religious history of mankind clearly testifies to the use of sacral languages, which are often not understandable to all participants, which include and contain while to a certain extent also conceal the mystery of the cult, and which therefore rely upon mystagogy to open up its meaning for the initiated, the mystes. In my opinion the strongest argument in favor of Latin derives from the demand for the accurate and integral preservation of the liturgical content. During the countless translations into the vernacular one can hardly avoid distortion, or at least a change of meaning and style.

The Latin is a witness to, and a reservoir of, the full meaning, the total liturgical theology which is neither the opposite of, nor identical with, doctrinal theology. We can return again and again to this treasury of original meaning, terminology and manner of thinking, and we may use it also as a corrective of the distortions made during the course of time.

I wish to add two points to these considerations. First, the point here is not only logical accuracy, but also the use of language in a sacred atmosphere evoking a system, of associations, a cultic style, a “sacred” language. Second, it is not enough if this perfect form can be found in the liturgical books. Each historical period, each place and community, each person has to encounter it, and so the full Latin liturgy must be kept alive in its proper function, as the language of liturgical celebration

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)


The “theme” of the liturgy on MAUNDAY THURSDAY is not the institution of the Eucharist but the whole Paschal Mystery, similarly to Good Friday or Easter Sunday. The classics of liturgical doctrine explained repeatedly that during these holy days our Passover celebration always recalled the memory of Christ’s Paschal mystery in its integrity. On a given day some aspects may gain prevalence above the others but always as part of the whole, in close connection with it. Even when viewed separately, the specific content of Maundy Thursday can be regarded as multi-layered combining various elements of the Last Supper, the Lord’s Last Sermon, his apprehension and interrogation (chronologically the first events of his Passion). The feelings vibrating in the soul of the Church correspond to the two sayings of the Lord: “With desire I have desired…” – and “Father, if you will…”

The reason why in the Middle Ages the Church felt the need to create the Feast of Corpus Domini is because she realized that Maundy Thursday was not the feast of the institution of the Eucharist. Maundy Thursday is a day of the celebration of the Paschal Mystery, a day of the celebration of the Passion, a day of presenting the Redemption through mysteries — and in this context and among other motives only — the remembrance of the institution of the Eucharist.

This complexity manifests itself within the Mass, too. The Introit (Nos autem gloriari), the Gradual (Christus factus est) and the Offertory (Dextera Domini) refer to the fundamental element of the celebration, i.e. the whole Paschal Mystery. The Gospel recalls the washing of the disciples’ feet, the original oration puts the motive of Judas’s betrayal into the context of the Holy Week as a whole. This statement will prove to be even more valid in view of the fact that the liturgy of Maundy Thursday was not confined to the celebration of the Mass. In the animate medieval liturgy the Mass was followed by a tremendous complexity of rites designated Mandatum (see: “Maundy” Thursday). In this rite the washing of feet, the cultic reading of the Last Sermon, the ritual meal (agape), the pious veneration of the altars were all combined to a homogenous sequence of events of dramatic nature. The whole was accompanied by a completely matching set of texts and chants. Besides, we have to mention the ceremony of the “Reconciliation of Penitents” taking place in the morning of this day It had survived in some religious orders as a rite of purification up to the recent past closing down the Lenten period and preparing the souls directly for Easter.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

Anyone who wishes to speak about the Tridentine rite must first clarify what meaning he exactly attributes to this term. Essentially the Trident rite is not an original and independent liturgy but a variant of the centuries-old Roman liturgy. Compared with this centuries-old tradition the first points that strike the eye are where the Tridentinum seems to be independent and different from everything else. In this case it will be declared to be a new branch of the Roman liturgy created 400 years ago. On the other hand, if you compare the Trident rite with liturgies other than the Roman one (e.g. with 17th—18th century “reformed” liturgies or with their spiritual offspring, the Bugnini liturgy) you will find that there are no important differences between the Tridentine usage and the main stream of the at least 1500-year-old Roman liturgy. In this respect the Tridentine rite represents the ancient Roman liturgy itself and not a 400-year-old custom.

Evidence on the liturgy of the first Christian centuries is sparse, and certainly not enough to justify any practical arrangement of the liturgy. Authentic sources survive sporadically from the 6th century onwards and in complete form from the 8th-9th centuries on. The liturgical arrangement as it is recorded in the 8th- to 10th-century sources could be traced back with careful consideration to the end of the 5th century at the latest. (Just think of the structural identity of the Office in the 9th—10th-century liturgical books on the one hand and in the Rule of St. Benedict on the other.) The main features of this liturgical usage were the same as those of the Roman church as followed — with slight differences — by the dioceses, provinces, religious orders up to 1970. There was no universal Roman liturgy that showed deviations depending on the location and the times of its use, in fact, these variants represented in their integrity the common essence of the Roman liturgy. The differences of the individual liturgies are historically extremely interesting and the details very clear if we examine them closely. However, the moment we look at them from the perspective of our time, they appear to constitute a uniform, characteristic liturgical family separated not only from the rite of the Eastern churches but from the liturgy of the other Latin rites (e.g. Mozarabic, Ambrosian, etc.), too. Unity and difference within this “Roman” liturgy (or liturgies) is not accidental, and the number and importance of the common features are greater than that of differences.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

For centuries the first reading [of Good Friday] had been the prophecy of Hosea about the three days of death and resuscitation, while in the second a section from Exodus about the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb was read. Attached to the first reading was one of the most important chants of the Christian liturgies, i.e. the canticle Domine audivi, whereas the second reading was followed by Psalm 139 of the persecuted Messiah. Both were sung in tract form which bears evidence of the ancientness of the custom on the one hand, and suits excellently the mood of the exceptional liturgical situation, on the other.

In fact, this is not the moment when the responsorial chant of the faithful is by all means necessary and desirable. These texts — the words of the Church as she falls on her knees stunned by God’s powerful deed in the first tract, and the complaint of the Body of Christ united with its suffering Head in the second — can well-nigh dumbfound the community listening with attention to the words performed by a solo singer or a small choir. These readings and tracts can be found unchanged in every liturgical book of the Roman rite (the Tridentine rite included), differences appear only in the rituals of the non-Roman churches (Beneventan, Milanese).

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

In the Roman rite, however, the chanting of the Holy Book means more than merely singing a paragraph from the Bible. The majority of the texts chosen for liturgical chant entered the liturgy as a result of three or four centuries of theological reflection. The material selected for chanting in the liturgy is a particular manifestation of authentic Christian theology. The connection between a text chosen for chanting, and a given solemnity or liturgical season, is based upon the contemplation and interpretation of generations of Church Fathers. Feasts were interpreted by the explanation of biblical verses and, vice versa, the explanation of the biblical verses took place in the liturgical context of feasts.

For instance, when Psalm 2 was adopted in the Christmas liturgy, its background was a deep understanding of Christmas; the mystery found its appropriate expression in Psalm 2. On the other hand, the precondition of such an adaptation was the Christological understanding of Psalm 2, which included its connection with the mystery of the Nativity. The context of the Christmas feast is deficient without the inclusion of Psalm 2, and the interpretation of Psalm 2 is deficient without the dogmatic content concerning the Second Divine Person. Psalm 2 (the Introit and Alleluia verse of the Midnight Mass) is closely related to St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews (Epistle of the Third Mass of Christmas Day) and to St. John’s Prologue (the Gospel of the Third Mass). Anyone who is familiar with the liturgy of the praying Church is aware of the importance of Psalms 18, 24, 79, and 84 in the spiritual message of the Advent season, an importance not inferior to that of the lections and prayers. These psalms, as they occur and recur, pray into the mind precisely that content of the Advent season, as well as its mystery, which is given by the praying Church — and not by individuals. The responsorial psalm is one element in this process, but not a self-sufficient one. The singer and the listener are influenced in a different way by the main verses chosen from the psalm and performed in a melodious way, than by a longer section of the psalm.

Therefore, he who removes the Proper chants from the Mass of the day or the season (e.g., Advent or Lent), mutilates the liturgy and diminishes the content of the feast, by depriving the praying Church of an excellent means of fully understanding the feast being celebrated. It is totally false to suppose that the full content of a given liturgical celebration can be adequately conveyed by readings and prayers alone, while the chanted texts are omitted. What these biblical texts transmit cannot be replaced or even approximated by poetic songs and hymns, as precious as they may be. And even if such texts would remain close to the biblical words, they remain human words, taken out of the biblical (i.e. inspired) context. I dare say that whoever removes the proper chants, mutilates and diminishes the theology as well, which lives not only in manuals and textbooks, but also in the spirituality of the praying Church, the Ecclesia orans.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

After the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church retained this principle: the chants of the Proper are an integral part of the Mass, hence should be sung in Latin (as Gregorian chant or a polyphonic setting), or at least recited by the celebrant. But by this time, as a consequence of historical processes, the system of institutions that formerly maintained and supported the continuity of chanting, had collapsed. In some churches there remained choirs (capellae) executing the pale and “boring” Gregorian Propers as a ritual obligation between the performance of two splendid movements of a polyphonic Ordinary. Some monasteries were also able to maintain the regular singing of the Proper chants. In the majority of Masses, however, it was left to the celebrant to read the texts in silence whilst the congregation nurtured its own religious feelings and passed the time by singing the pious hymns created as a result of Protestant influence. The mere reading of the Proper chants shriveled the texts into brief “logia,” bits of connective tissue between the “important” parts of the service.

No wonder, then, that for many the Proper chants became an obligatory but very subordinate, non-essential part of the liturgy, incapable of offering much spiritual sustenance even to the priest celebrant. Problems of this nature were but of marginal interest to the religious movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, and only the liturgical renewal of the 19th century (Dom Gueranger, Bishop J. M. Sailer) offered any chance for the a reversal of the decline. The best efforts at reform, however, encountered serious obstacles, and the results were rather narrowly circumscribed. But their real significance lay in the “appeal” they voiced: to look for and work toward a better future. The apostles of liturgical renewal urged the establishment of choirs in many churches, with appropriate musical formation to enable them to sing the chant, including the Proper chants (largely to Gregorian tunes) according to the rules of the Church.

What was missing, unfortunately, was the supporting system of institutions, which would guarantee the universal and uninterrupted achievement of this goal -, independently of personal and individual zeal. Along with the other texts, the Proper chants were also transmitted to the faithful in the bilingual missals whose influence was enormous. For many Catholics the missal became their most important spiritual nourishment, more important perhaps than even the Bible, because once drawn into the rhythm of the Church’s life, they received God’s word and the Church’s prayer within the vivid context of the liturgy under the protecting wings of liturgical observation. Such persons also became attached to the Proper chants as to sacred texts… but only as texts. (While singing, a text extends in space and time, and thus touches not only the intellect, but other spheres of the heart and soul as well).

The liturgical renewal greatly enriched and supported both priests and layfolk by publishing explanations of the liturgy. Drawn from good sources, these commentaries transcended the moral sermonizing of Baroque and Enlightenment schoolbooks, and did not fail to include the chants of the Proper, interpreting them in the spirit of the liturgy. It is regrettable that these commentaries did not reach the entire larger community of the faithful, and even more regrettable that they did not permeate the great majority of the clergy either.

Complete success was not achieved because of three failures or deficiencies: 1) The liturgical renewal remained more of an exhortation and a pious desire than a concrete program energetically taken up and vigorously executed by the entire institution of the Church. 2) No mechanism was developed for combining the true preservation of Latin with the linguistic communication of the liturgy to persons unfamiliar with Latin. 3) There was no bold creative action to find ways of presenting music to people of the age, unable to perform universally the Proper chants in their full form. Vatican II was predestined to accept and pass on the noble legacy of the century-old liturgical renewal and to solve the problems that had emerged. Though the principles of the Council’s Liturgical Constitution promised the restoration of liturgical singing, events after the Council in fact led to the disappearance of liturgical singing.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The Proper chants are imbued with a special kind of poetical power, which is lacking in strophic poetry, even in its most wonderful hymns. The chants of the Proper announce the great truths of Christian doctrine and liturgical theology, in most instances without direct didactic persuasion, and without decorating the teaching with lyrical ornaments. They are “poetical” by speaking with the vocabulary of the Bible, i.e. with adapted words. In a certain sense they resemble similes, chiefly when they quote from the Old Testament. The theological truths are transmitted, and yet — concealed in their intimacy. Simple words and images are, as it were, dropped into the mind of the listener, where they come to light; figurative speech becomes reality in prayerful silence. An authoritative expert in aesthetics has explained that the essence of great poetry is an enigmatic oscillation between layers of meaning, and between the temporal “reference points” (that is past, present and future) in a poem. This same oscillation is present in the liturgy not as an outcome of creative will, but in virtue of Divine Providence: the same Poet, God Himself, pronounced the Old Testament, uttered the Good News, and fulfilled (still fulfills) both in the sanctified life of the Church. When we sing a Proprium chant, we always think (or at least we feel or sense) more than is actually delivered by voice and lips. We surmise the fulfillment itself in the words, and therefore they are the words of the heavenly liturgy. This tactful, discreet poetry is hardly attainable by the plain language of ecclesiastical poetry. […]


With this in mind, I ask once more: where is the “alius cantus” [“anything else that is appropriate”] that is able to speak with such strength, such theological profundity, such poetic intimacy, but also with such simplicity, of the Paschal mystery? With what majesty does the celebration of Easter rise up out of the silent depths of this personal (and mystical) dialogue! And how powerful the pedagogical effect of this poetry which teaches us to regard our religion primarily as a very personal union with God, and not merely as adherence to a group of people, as it were, to a party or some “community.” We learn to seek this inner truth without despising the external form that delivers the inner meaning. It is enough to read (or better: to sing) the daily Introit chants of the Easter octave to see how the Mystery, with its many dimensions, unfolds in the Church’s chant.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

Finally, it behooves us to recall that the Proper chants of the Mass are linked to the liturgical seasons and times, not just in a general fashion, but quite specifically, by virtue of their content. The oldest choir-books of the Roman liturgy eloquently testify that the overwhelming majority of these chants belonged to fixed days, and these assignments remained untouched up until 1968. The same texts were written in the Missals, and if they were not sung, then the priest prayed them. In doing so, the Church clearly expressed her desire that each chant stand in a fixed position, which simply means that on this day, at this liturgical position, this is the chant, and not any other.

Exactly when and how this “properization” of the Mass chants was achieved is an altogether different question. At this point, we are not interested in this question, nor in deciding whether or not the numerous speculations are true concerning the justification of the given position of a chant and its interrelationships with other parts of the daily liturgy through historical facts or spiritual reflections. We simply accept the fact that in the minds, hearts and memories of faithful Catholics there gradually emerged, over a period of 1200 years or more, a network of associations between the experience of a particular liturgical day and the chants “proper” to that day. Such associations were truly “catholic,” in other words universal within the Latin liturgy. All felt a part of it, anyone at will referred to it: the Sundays were named after their Introits (e.g. Laetare, Gaudete, Quasimodo); people dated their private letters by referring to the same chant; composers created music not to texts, but to the Offertory or the Introit of a given day. For a Christian who lived in and with the liturgy of the praying Church, this order of chants coalesced with the full liturgy of the day, and it contributed to the high degree of constancy in the Mass Propers (as opposed to the frequent variations in the Divine Office). So it is by no means an accident that certain chant forms were excluded from this uniformity. In spite of the unchanging stability of Introits, Graduals, Offertories and Communions, the Alleluja and the Sequence presented a wide field of opportunity for the creative forces of various geographic regions (tropes, sacred polyphony).

This universality and continuity in space and time bore rich fruit, and brought great blessings. Over and above the psychological associations, such universality nurtured a feeling of stability and promoted the reverence of which a long tradition is worthy. It radiated, and thus taught, discipline; it made palpable a kind of “impersonal anonymity” which cannot be achieved simply by concealing the authors’ names. My university students were always shocked to open Dom Hesbert’s Antiphonarium Missarum Sextuplex or the 11th-century Gradual of the Roman basilica of St. Cecilia, only to find there, on the same days, the same Proper chants than the ones printed in the Liber Usualis of 1950. And without any coaching from me, their first question after the initial surprise was, “Then why should we sing different ones instead of these?”

Why, indeed…?

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The blurring of the Hour’s character is the consequence of the diminution of daily psalmody and of the new distribution of psalms. The reform at the beginning of the 20th century gave up in great part the 1500-year-old system, as well as the basic principles of distribution. Two generations of priests had grown up without any personal experience of the Roman psalmic order, and, their majority simply did not know about its existence. The Liturgia Horarum – with a more radical resolution – went much further down the path opened 70 years before.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The reforms of St. Pius X considerably diminished the “burden of the day.” But for the clergy this was not enough. They found the one or one-and-a-half hour that the daily Office demanded too long. The main point of the further reforms requested from Vatican II was again a radical shortening of the Office. Another aim was a kind of “rationalization” in the spirit of Quignonez and the Neo-Gallican reform breviaries. A lot of other (sometimes right, otherwise wanton) changes completed the package of new reforms. Having the Liturgia Horarum in hand, one is frequently inclined to ask what is the “true spiritual benefit” of a particular modification, given the fact that the Constitution on the Liturgy defined this benefit as the main criterion of any legitimate change.

The Council dealt with the Office mainly from a theological, spiritual and disciplinary point of view, but some principles for its reorganization were also laid down. A new Latin version of the psalms was wanted (practically, a return from the Pianum to the Vulgate), and similarly a restoration of the hymns (return from the “modernized” version of the 17th century to the original medieval texts). The Constitution abolished Prime, conceded to make only one of the daytime Little Hours obligatory; stipulated that the Psalter be distributed within a longer (undefined) period instead of its weekly recitation. The realization was left to a Committee to be set up.

The Committee under the leadership of Msg. Bugnini (practically following his will, or, if the reports are true, a will from outside the Church) did not reform the Roman Office, but created a new breviary. It was sent to the bishops’ conferences to solicit their opinion. This was, in fact, no more than a formality. No time was left for a thorough analysis; the clergy was unprepared for a well-founded response; and, the Committee was resolute to carry the changes through whatever reply would come from “outside.”

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)